On Sunday afternoon, Chris Froome (Team Sky) will pedal through the streets of Rome in the maglia rosa and aboard a pink bike. He will accept the congratulations of his teammates as he freewheels across the finish line on the Via dei Fori Imperiali. In the shadow of the Coliseum and amid a shower of pink confetti, he will be presented with the Trofeo Senza Fine.
In short, Froome will be acclaimed with the normal pomp and ceremony as the winner of the 2018 Giro d’Italia, but, by any metric, this cannot be described as a normal edition of the Giro d’Italia. The still unresolved case of Froome’s positive test for salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta a España has seen to that.
On the eve of the Grande Partenza in Jerusalem, race director Mauro Vegni claimed that the UCI had assured him that Froome’s final result would stand regardless of the outcome of the salbutamol case. That same evening, the UCI issued a statement to refute that claim, and president David Lappartient reiterated that stance when he visited the Giro this week.
In Rome on Sunday, the 2018 Giro winner’s name will be writ in water, not set in stone.
After securing final overall victory by repelling Tom Dumoulin’s flurry of attacks on the road to Cervinia on Saturday afternoon, Froome was asked about his salbutamol case. His comments, as they have been since news of the matter broke in December, were decidedly low on detail.
“That’s obviously something we’re dealing with. I have a clear conscience,” Froome said. “As I said, when the time is right, all the information will be shared with everyone and I’m sure people will see it from my point of view.”
Regardless of whether it lasts in the record books, Froome’s astonishing solo effort on stage 19 will linger in the memory. After struggling for much of the Giro – victory at Monte Zoncolan was the lone highlight in a trying opening two weeks – Froome dramatically turned the race on its head by attacking alone on the dirt road of the Colle delle Finestre on Friday. He proceeded to ride alone for 80 kilometres over the Finestre and Sestriere, winning atop the Jafferau with three minutes in hand on his pursuers.
The solo raid has drawn comparisons – some flattering, some rather more pointed – with rides such as those by Fausto Coppi to Pinerolo in 1949, by Claudio Chiappucci to Sestriere in 1992, by Marco Pantani on the Galibier in 1998, by Floyd Landis to Morzine in 2006 or by Michael Rasmussen to Tignes in 2007.
“Listen, I can understand the parallels or comparisons being drawn by some people, but I have every confidence it will stand,” Froome said.
One aspect of Froome’s stage 19 effort appears to have gone unrecorded. Each day on this Giro, the business association Velon – which represents 10 WorldTour teams – has been dutifully posting press releases detailing the power output from selected riders in the race. While the Velon missive for stage 19 listed selected power data from riders including Dumoulin, Richard Carapaz, Rohan Dennis and Davide Formolo, the group provided only climbing time and speed for Froome. (For Saturday’s stage, Velon listed Froome’s average power as 280 Watts).
“I’d be very surprised if Velon doesn’t have the data, as I’ve been riding around with an extra 180g receiver of theirs on my bike for the last three weeks,” Froome said. “I’d be disappointed if they don’t have the data.”
Froome later revisited the issue at the end of his short press conference, suggesting that the bulk of his large buffer over Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot et al had been created by taking risks on descents rather than by “anything about numbers or anything like that.” Yet Froome also managed to concede nothing to a group powered by the world time trial champion on the long section of false flat that led to the final climb.
Asked to provide his average power output for the stage, however, Froome smiled and said: “I haven’t actually looked at it myself.”
“But you’re looking at the computer all day!” his interlocuter exclaimed.
“No, I’m not looking at the computer, I’m riding as hard as I can,” Froome said. “I heard something about 350 watts for three hours, but obviously there’s a few descents there as well. I mean, I don’t mind sharing that data. It was interesting to see yesterday I made up most of my time on the descents by the looks of it.”
Froome began Saturday’s demanding leg from Susa to Cervinia with a buffer of 40 seconds over Dumoulin atop the overall standings. After the Col Saint-Pantaléon saw the abrupt end of Pinot’s podium hopes, the final skirmish for the maglia rosa unfolded on the final haul to Cervinia.
Aided by his Sunweb teammate Sam Oomen, Dumoulin made no fewer than four accelerations, but he was unable to shake Froome, who even gained an additional 6 seconds on his dauphin by pressing on to take 7th on the stage, 6:03 behind early escapee Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott). Froome flies to Rome on Saturday evening with a lead of 46 seconds on Dumoulin and 4:57 on Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
“It feels as if this has been the battle of my career,” Froome said of a race that began with a crash during the reconnaissance of the opening time trial in Jerusalem. “I kept getting knocked down. There were days with crashes, days where I should have finished in front but lost time, there have been so many hurdles to overcome during this race.
“There were a lot of moments during this Giro where I felt this might not happen. At the back of my mind, I just had to keep the belief that this Giro was about the last block and the last few days, which are so difficult. If anyone has a bad day and you need to recover time, that was the moment to do it.”
Froome’s salbutamol case will rumble on through June, with David Lappartient admitting to Cyclingnews this week that he was unsure if the matter would be resolved in time for the Tour de France. Froome, for his part, appears adamant that he will be on the start line on July 7, seeking a fourth Grand Tour win in succession. “I’m certainly planning to go there and give it everything,” he said.
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